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California, New Zealand. Two passports, two homelands. And detours.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Garden Party

Today is my father's birthday; I'm dedicating a song to him.

It's a song that was in my head last month, driving, then flying, then driving again, back from a wedding in a vineyard that I went by myself to, knowing only the bride. I had about six hours of travel time the day after to look out windows, forehead on glass, and think about how great it would be to have him turn this song up on the radio and sing it to me right about now.

The wedding was beautiful. The bride was beautiful. At the reception, the sun was coming down into the courtyard through the trees, and there was a fountain; it reminded me of being back home, I had these great new shoes that made me feel tall, yet still me, and everyone was wearing groovy frocks and and sunglasses and it felt like winter had been beaten back ; and at some point I was talking with someone, while holding a glass of champagne and a tartlet, when I was told I was strange.

The moment was surreal. There was the assessment of who had overheard this conversation and who, exactly, was doing the judging - because what kind of guy says that to a girl, who is clearly very much minus a plus one, at a wedding, because no matter what the context, all you hear is you don't belong here with us. I froze and tried not to let the warmth I could feel rising up in me get to my eyes, where it would show how that adjective killed my spirit a little, as someone who has a long history with public events that begin with feeling quite extraordinary and end with the realisation I'm a cautionary tale for some, or many, depending on the crowd.

For these illusions of being destined for greatness, I totally blame my dad.

Because for every parade, stage performance, and pony club show that I've arrived at like a conquistador, Dad has been my trusty sidekick, either in the background or taking the photograph as I stride off to be the heroine of whatever story I had created for myself that morning.

When I was eight Dad took of me at a Western show class I entered with my pony, Mishka near my hometown. Small, hairy $75 Shetland ponies don't belong next to glistening, sleek, $20,000 Quarter horses, but if I was oblivious to this, Dad chose to be too. So he borrowed a Los Olivos Olive Company van and we coaxed Mishka into the back of it and hauled her off to the show, pulling in beside six-horse trailers in a field next to the showring and unloaded her. I remember looking around and thinking yeah okay, so maybe we wouldn't get the blue ribbon, but I was pretty confident of a second or third place.

One thing dad insisted on always, no matter what I was up to: ''safety first''.

So the picture I have of Mishka and I is us in a lineup of horses and riders that are clearly bred to win. Shiny saddles, sparkling belt buckles, spurs and cowboy hats. In the middle is me on Mishka, coming up to the shoulder of the horses on either side of me, wearing a polo shirt, regular backyard jeans, a bandana tied around my neck and a big white astronaut crash helmet.

I remember at some point looking around and squinting up at the other riders, the astronaut helmet slipping down over my eyes, and then down at myself and Mishka and thinking we look kind of different.

There is a photo I have been trying to embed into this post all afternoon. I've scanned it wrong, so you will have to rely on word visuals here. The photo is of me and dad in a Day in the Country parade. This is age 7; about a year before Mishka. To tie me over in my horse craze, Dad had built me one in the back yard, then put wagon wheels and a halter on it. I named it Blaze. I dressed up in cowboy boots and a bonnet and Dad wheeled me down Grand Ave, waving. The great part about the photo which hangs by my bed, to remind me of my roots, is my expression. You can see the defensiveness building in my eyes as its dawning on me that I'm not on a real horse and that I'm not a real cowgirl. I'm starting to get that sullen look of a girl who's fantasy that she is the most beautiful girl in the world is starting to deflate. Dad, the wind beneath my wings, is looking 100 percent supportive as he pushes me along telling me to keep waving.

Story of my life, right there.

So today on my Dad's birthday I'm playing back a song that was always on when we did our Saturday chore drives together, the drives to get alfalfa bales for Mishka where I'd stare hard at the rearview mirror to decide if I liked my face. This song would come on and I'd snap out of it and look over at Dad and be like hey it's our song.

And it still is.

Even more so when you're standing in a courtyard with tartlets and Champagne, defending the way you live your life, which I'm still trying hard to be a good heroine of.

It's it's is a pretty good legacy to leave to a daughter, Dad.

You know why?

(Everybody, altogether)

Cause it's all right now
I learned my lesson well
You can't please everyone
So you got to please yourself

For me, Ricky's lip-synching adds to the overall authenticity of his message.

(On an endnote: I sort of threw this guy to the dogs at the beginning of the story with the comment about me being strange. He said he remembered that I had lived, happily, by choice, on my own in Clinton, South Otago, three years ago. Now I live in Invercargill. And he saved himself by saying strange like it was maybe a good survival skill to have handy if i was going to keep moving to wintry, towns at the bottom of the world that are interesting to me. Tonight I chased an astronomer down Oreti beach in 115 km winds - my bank card, pens, office key, two parking tickets flying out of my pockets, to be lost in the waves - for a picture of him watching his 54th solar eclipse. These are the places I like to make my home. Maybe that is odd. But this is me)

And the rest of the wedding reception was awesome. I danced all night with total strangers.

Us strange girls do that.

Happy Birthday Dad. Wish I was going with you guys to the Apple Farm, then Costco, then to the Christmas tree farm...miss you guys so...